When it comes to sugar cookies, my grandma is the queen of the kitchen. There’s something magical about the super thin, perfectly sweetened treats she’s been making since before I can remember, and I bet her grandkids would all agree that her sugar-cookie skills are second to none. Without fail, for every major holiday, Grandma bakes, packs and mails dozens upon dozens of these cookies in all different directions to ensure that each of her four children, 11 grandchildren and one — soon to be three — great-grandchild receives his or her share.
And keep in mind, this is no slice-and-bake situation. These are the made-from-scratch, good-as-gold, cut-in-festive-shapes and iced-to-perfection kind of cookies. Over the years they’ve crossed zip codes, state lines and oceans, but no matter how far they travel, they always arrive fresh, delicious and amazingly unbroken.
I realized a long time ago that there is no replicating Grandma’s cookies because the recipe is only the beginning. Everything from the way they look, to the way they taste, to the way they arrive (pairs placed in plastic sandwich bags, cushioned by a mountain of popcorn) makes them what they are. So rather than try to master her cookie perfection (I’m telling you, folks, it can’t be done), I set out in search of a sugar cookie I could make my own. Real Simple helped me out with this great recipe from last year’s December issue, and I’ve made a slightly altered version for every holiday since.
And now that it’s Halloween (wahoo!), I put a spooky spin on my second-only-to-Grandma’s sugar cookie fave. I often top the cookies with a lemon glaze (the tart lemon works really well with the sweetness of the cookie), but I thought I’d go Halloween-y this time around with a fresh orange glaze and orange-flecked sugar.
So in the continued spirit of the holiday, here’s a final sweet treat to share:
Sugar cookie dough
• 2 1/2 cups flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 3 teaspoons vanilla (the Real Simple recipe uses 1)
In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Using electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg, and cream until fluffy (takes about two minutes). Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Turn mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients, and mix until fully incorporated.
Form dough into disk shape, wrap with plastic wrap or parchment paper, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Roll out dough on floured surface until it’s about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out your cookie shapes (to prevent sticking, try flouring the cookie cutters before using), and place about an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes (or until edges turn golden brown).
• 1 cup powdered sugar
• 3 to 4 tablespoons orange juice (the just-squeezed-from-a-real-orange kind)
• 1 teaspoon orange zest
• 1/4 cup raw sugar
• red and yellow food coloring (two drops of each)
Mix powdered sugar, orange juice and orange zest in a wide bowl until blended completely (I usually do this by hand, without an electric mixer). For a thicker consistency, add a bit more powdered sugar; for a thinner glaze, add a bit more orange juice.
In a separate bowl, mix raw sugar with a few drops each of red and yellow food coloring until sugar turns an orangey color.
When cookies have cooled completely, dip tops of cookies into glaze. Then sprinkle with orange sugar before the glaze hardens.
Let cookies stand until glaze is dry (at least 20 minutes).
We’re definitely loving the citrus kick these puppies are packing; it’s a welcome contrast to the mountains of sweetness we’re getting from the rest of our Halloween spread. But then again, Halloween is all about the sugary goodness. So trick-or-treat until your heart’s content! Just don’t forget to brush your teeth.
Happy, happy Halloween!